Sucker and Suckee; or, Not All Fish are for Frying

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005, 1:29 pm

In his highly-promoted but rarely-quoted book Play Poker Like the Pros, Phil Hellmuth splits players into five categories based, for some reason, on animals. These categories are:

The Mouse, who plays very conservatively

The Jackal, who plays a crazy and unpredictable game

The Elephant, who plays too many hands

The Lion, skilled and tough to beat

And then the animal Phil claims for himself, the eagle…wait, that’s not an eagle…

THIS is an eagle, the superplayer who soars above all others

I’ve always thought of this animalistic nomenclature as nonsense. As apparently everyone else does. I Googled “jackal and poker” and found only one appropriate listing, a post in The Poker Forum written by a guy named SammoThe Retard. One appreciates others coming up with punchlines ready to serve.

So no one has bought into Phil’s vision of the poker world as a safari. And understandably so. Why would one consider a player who plays too many hands to be an “elephant”? Elephants are big, slow, and powerful, I don’t think they instinctively crave constant action. Crazy players are “jackals”? How often do you hear people talking about the loony they work for as a “jackal”? Jackal has a much more pejorative connotation, as a savage, merciless killer. As in the excellent Frederick Forsyth book “The Day of the Jackal”, which was made into a fantastic movie of the same name, and into an utterly forgettable Bruce Willis vehicle.

(Incidentally, when I learned that Forsyth had worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber to write a book called “The Phantom of Manhattan”, of course a sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera”, it was one of the worst shocks to the nervous system I’d ever had. It was like learning that Tom Clancy had taken to the moors and written “Wutheringer Heights”).

So no one cares about Phil’s menagerie. But of course you do hear animals used as shorthand to describe certain types of players. Sharks, sure. Donkey, yes. And, of course, fish. It was during a brace of SNGs last night that I realized the kind of animal whose behavior I seemingly aspire to, based upon my play last night.

Playing SNGs at Party after the luxury of PokerStars, where you start with $1500 in chips and the blinds don’t go up quite so fast, can be taxing. At Party you get $800 and one boo-boo can sink you in the doo-doo. Which happened to me in the first one I played, I got involved in a hand where I flopped top-two pair, but I couldn’t chase the chasers and by the river there was four to a straight out there and the bastard bet big. I had to throw my hand away (correctly it turned out, tho lotta good that did me) and I was down around $600.

The doofus to my right knocked a guy out when he played 9-6 against AQ, had the flop come Q-9-2, and went all the way to the river and spiked a six to win the pot. The next friggin’ hand I had AK, flopped a king, bet big and this jerk called. After the turn the board read K-4-6-7, with two spades. I pushed in the rest of my meager stack and he called. A five on the the river, and he turned over pocket threes. I couldn’t believe it. He called a big preflop raise, a big bet on the flop, a big bet on the turn (I was playing pot-limit, so I couldn’t go all-in) and hit his inside straight on the river. I typed “you gotta be kidding me” and bit down on a wadded-up towel to keep my keening from disturbing the cats.

I considered folding up my tent right there, but no. I wanted revenge. So I played another one. “Play tight, play smart, don’t bluff off your chips to these morons”. This was how I psyched myself up.

So I end up gifting a quarter of my stack to a guy who, yes, did hit trips on the flop. Brilliant play. A few missed flops later I was in trouble, so I poured gasoline over myself and waited for the hand where I could either double up or end my misery.

I waited. And I waited. I was patient. I waited. I threw away hands like K-10 and QJ that might tempt the desperate and/or insane and I waited. When I was dealt 99 on the button I pushed, figuring I might take the blinds right there. Nope, the SB put me all-in. I had to call, and he turned over 10-10. That hurt. Pocket tens are my favorite hand, my lucky hand. Getting knocked out by tens is like a cop getting shot with his own gun.

But I flopped a nine. And instead of lighting a match, I was 2nd in chips. This was the second time in my recent play that I spiked a nine to defeat a bigger pair. I went on to win the last time I did that. And that’s what I did this time as well.

I won by waiting. Waiting. Waiting for a monster hand, and then striking. The folks I was playing against were either idiots or horribly nearsighted. The chip leader gave away 2/3 of his stack calling down big bets to the river holding J-3…he never even had a pair. There were four spades on the board. He didn’t have a spade. Inconceivable.

I waited…and then my AJ knocked out a guy with A-9. I had Q-10 (in the big blind) and flopped a full house. I check-called a guy to the river, and then out of the blue put him all-in. He couldn’t help himself, it was an easy laydown but I knew he couldn’t do it. He had nothing but the pair on the board and an ace. He was hypnotized by the chips in the pot.

And that’s what made me think of the creature I was playing against. The fish I was up against simply could not resist the lure of a bet, the lure of the brightly colored chips cluttering the center of the table. No matter what they held, they would not fold. So long as you gently, and subtlely, coaxed them ever closer, closer, closer…

Just like this creature:

A scene from the documentary Finding Nemo, and the Real Thing

This is the angler fish, an especially nasty bit of seafood found in the ocean depths. The angler fish has a lumenescent probe extending out of its forehead, and it wiggles and waggles this probe to attract the attention of fish who should know better. The fish swim closer and closer to the probe, and the angler, which is basically just a big neck with fins and sports a gigantic jaw filled with knitting needles, lunges forward with subliminal quickness and inhales its prey along with a goodly amount of seawater. Adios, fish.

This is what inspired my win last night. Lure the fishy close…gulp! It helped that I had some cards, including cowboys on the final hand. I tempted fate and slow-played them to the river, where he hit a queen and went all-in. Gulp! A nice win, one that added nicely to my bankroll.

Sadly, anglers are themselves fish, which means this is not exactly the level I aspire to. In fact, angler fish was the secret ingredient on an episode of “Iron Chef”, and out of the water they look like what globs out when King Kong blows his nose. “Their liver is called the ‘fois gras of the sea’,” explained commentator Dr. Yukio Hattori, but the challenger looked like he might hurl the whole time he was dissecting it. Not one of the better episodes.

A few years back I bought my niece Hailey a bunch of picture books showing animals and birds and fish. She and I went through the fish book and saw rays and sharks and whatnot, none of which fazed her. But when she saw an angler fish, she recoiled in horror. “What’s that,” she said in a frightened voice, and she actually covered her eyes with her hands, she was so scared. Not that much scares Hailey these days–for Christmas we got her this CSI Crime Scene kit with all sorts of gizmos and instruments. I remember that she took some hair samples from me…so if you’re watching CNN in the near future and you see me in an orange jumpsuit doing the perp walk while surrounded by a dozen FBI agents, you’ll know Hailey set me up but GOOD.

So there we are, the angler fish. A bloated, slimy, asocial loner cruising the depths of a lightless underworld with only one thing on its mind. Ah, sends me back to those junior high days…

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